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Judaism: Hasidic Mystics

Silence Is Preferable

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Rabbis Or N. Rose and Ebn D. Leader consider the role of silence in Hasidic prayer. They stress the delicate balance of action and contemplation:

Judaism has earned a reputation as a religion of words and deeds. Silent meditation is a practice we associate more readily with various Eastern traditions. Our daily experience strengthens this impression. How much silence was there in the last Jewish prayer service you attended? Our tefilot (prayers) tend to be overwhelmingly “wordy”; the siddur (prayer book) demonstrates the cumulative effect of generations of liturgists adding more and more words to our prayers.

The practice of silence emphasized by the Hasidic masters . . . may come as a blessing for those who have learned its benefits from other traditions, and who now wish to integrate it into their Jewish lives.

Yet the Hasidic masters were careful to point out that silent meditation is not an end in itself. It is a practice whose test must come in the world of action and interaction. The hanhagot [spiritual practices] provide us with guidance for meditation and prayer, but the ultimate challenge they pose is this: Can we maintain our spiritual focus in the world beyond the synagogue, study hall, or retreat center? Each night, as we review the events of the day, we must ask ourselves: Have I lived this day with awareness? [1]

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (Ukraine)—a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov—commends contemplative silence as a way to meet God:

“He who speaks too much brings sin”
(Pirkei Avot 1:5).
The meaning of this teaching is as follows:
the word sin means deficiency.

Even when you speak with others about the wisdom
of the Torah,
silence is still preferable.

Silent contemplation offers greater possibilities for
connection with the Divine
than does discussion or speech. [2]

For Father Richard, the sacred nature of silence is at the heart of contemplative awakening:

Silence is not just that which is around words and underneath images and events. It has a life of its own. It is a being in itself to which we can relate and can become intimately familiar. Philosophically, we would say being is that foundational quality which precedes all other attributes. Silence is at the very foundation of all reality—naked being, we might say. Pure being is that out of which all else comes and to which all things return.

To live in this primordial, foundational being, which I am calling silence, creates a kind of sympathetic resonance with what is right in front of us. Without it, we are just reacting instead of responding. The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.

We have to be awake right now and we can be through silence. It is not a matter of being more moral but of being more conscious—which will eventually make us more moral! [3]

References:
[1] Or N. Rose, Ebn D. Leader, eds., trans., God in All Moments: Mystical and Practical Spiritual Wisdom from Hasidic Masters, (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2004), 113.

[2] Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Hayim V’Hesed, #9, in God in All Moments, 115.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 1, 4, 25.

Explore Further. . .

For an introduction to the mystics featured in this week’s Daily Meditations, watch Managing Editor Mark Longhurst interview Jewish mysticism scholar Arthur Green. 

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 7 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Menachem Weinreb, two Jewish boxes of tefillin unwrapped (detail), 2021, photograph, Jerusalem. Arthur Allen, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: God, unveiled, in our deepest rituals and traditions as well as in the simplicity of light moving across stones and trees.

Story from Our Community:

Around the age of twelve, I was walking with my family right after the rain, and my sister and I were splashing around in the puddles, laughing and having so much fun. Suddenly the sun came out, streaming through the trees, and I was overcome by a penetrating sense of joy. I felt beyond myself as if I was looking at my family from a distance and seeing them from the inside out. I felt full of love for them and I felt connected to all that was around. I felt truly alive, whole, and connected to everything in a way I had never experienced before. —Catherine D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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